What does Rs 5 fetch you these days?
Not even a cup of chai from an unhygienic street vendor who washes the glasses by dipping them into a bucket of water. Not even a bundle of coriander. For an alms-seeker, it is the lowest acceptable denominator.
And as the fee for attending a Narendra Modi public meeting in Hyderabad, it is not even a grain of a shred of crumb.
In the US, for the sheer pleasure – or other commercial or political compulsions – of listening to politicians, people fork out sums in five figures or more. That helps build campaign coffers. In India, barons of all kinds contribute to political parties but are not seen openly with politicians.
This five-buck-a-shot plan by the Bharatiya Janata Party, however, is novel for many reasons.
First, it is good PR to convey that people show their solidarity not by footfalls alone but their pocketbooks as well. It is also to say that in a place that is not exactly a BJP stronghold, people show their commitment to a party, a leader, indicating a mood change. Or that they are at least wiling to hear him out.
It also is a way to show that the party does not pay the audience to attend, which is a standard practice in most rallies where numbers, not their conversion into votes, is a stupid yardstick for the media.
This Rs 5 gambit by itself is significant because most political parties have paid audiences for the rallies of even the biggest of their leaders. Even Sonia Gandhi. Even Left leaders. And even the BJP. Of course, this would be routinely denied.
Maybe the entire audience is not hired; but substantial section of it often is. That is why we hear of huge expenditure on campaign organisation.
Take a look at this: Maharashtra’s present Congress Chief and a former minister are caught on camera, discussing how ministers are to cough up Rs 10 lakh each and how Ashok Chavan, had forked out Rs 2 cr.
Or read this justification by Vilasrao Deshmukh in 2010: “Workers and leaders of every political party donate money to their parties for organising programmes and campaigns and there is nothing wrong in it.”
By that logic, paying Rs 5 is “nothing wrong”. That makes the Rs 5 per head at Hyderabad acceptable. Except that in this case, it is not from a select few with access to resources, legitimate or otherwise, but by anyone who wants to hear out Modi’s case for the BJP as an alternative to Congress.
And it is in this context that Manish Tewari’s taunt at Modi needs to be viewed. This bid at Hyderabad was “the true discovery of Modi’s market price” and that it was “monetisation of democracy”, this spinmeisters-minister has said.
But Mr Tewari, you need to respond to a question which is this: If people paying to attend a rally is his true market discovered value at Rs 5 per head, isn’t paying the audience, which is cash per person plus meal plus illegal transport on trucks (passengers cannot be carried,only goods can) – indicative of the negative worth of the leader addressing a rally?
The BJP’s move could be a good one as it helps the party openly garner funds. Assuming 50,000 attend the Modi rally at the Lal Bahadur Stadium, with a seating capacity of 30,000 in its stands plus another 20,000 on the circular ground itself, it means a tidy sum of Rs 2.5 lakhs.
That sum may not be enough for the dais, the public address system and the barricades. It may well be only a fraction of the total costs of holding the rally which will never be disclosed, including the day’s rent for the stadium, which can be known.
If successful, this move could bolster the intents of hitherto non-political persons, such as the Aam Aadmi Party which is looking to a non-political catchment for both candidates and voters. They may come out seeking currency notes and votes, the former to sustain a campaign, and the latter to get elected.
It could also help several well-meaning individuals who are deterred by the costs of a poll campaign than the loss of face of losing both the elections as well as the deposit. In spite of such trip-ups, there have been such scattered efforts in the past across the country but not enough to make it a trend.
Unless, of course, the BJP has someone else pay up the entire money on behalf of the people who attend the Hyderabad rally, as in buying up the tickets in bulk, as it were, to seek a favour from a BJP functionary with influence.
In politics, you never know what could happen. Anything could, because the political system is fine tuned to be easily sabotaged like democracy and its institutions have been.